Military Munitions:

DOD Needs to Develop a Comprehensive Approach for Cleaning Up Contaminated Sites

GAO-04-147: Published: Dec 19, 2003. Publicly Released: Jan 20, 2004.

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Over 15 million acres in the United States are suspected of being, or known to be, contaminated with military munitions. These sites include ranges on closing military installations, closed ranges on active installations, and formerly used defense sites. Under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, established in 1986, the Department of Defense (DOD) must identify, assess, and clean up military munitions contamination at these sites. DOD estimates these activities will cost from $8 billion to $35 billion. Because of the magnitude of DOD's cleanup effort, both in terms of cost and affected acreage, as well as the significant public safety, health, and environmental risks that military munitions may pose, The Ranking Minority Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce asked us to evaluate (1) DOD's progress in implementing its program to identify, assess, and clean up military munitions sites and (2) DOD's plans to clean up remaining sites in the future.

DOD has made limited progress in its program to identify, assess, and clean up sites that may be contaminated with military munitions. While DOD had identified 2,307 potentially contaminated sites as of September 2002, DOD officials said that they continue to identify additional sites and are not likely to have a firm inventory for several years. Of the identified sites, DOD had initially determined that 362 sites required no further study or cleanup action because it found little or no evidence of military munitions. For 1,387 sites, DOD either has not begun or not completed its initial evaluation or determined that further study is needed. DOD has completed its assessment of 558 sites, finding that 475 of these required no cleanup action. The remaining 83 sites required some cleanup action, of which DOD has completed 23. DOD does not yet have a complete and viable plan for cleaning up military munitions at remaining potentially contaminated sites. DOD's plan is lacking in several respects. Essential data for DOD's plan may take years to develop. Not all the potential sites have been identified, and DOD has set no deadline for doing so. Also, DOD intends to use a new procedure to assign a relative priority for the remaining 1,387 sites, but it will not complete the reassessments until 2012. Until these are done, DOD cannot be assured that it is using its limited resources to clean up the riskiest sites first. DOD's plan relies on preliminary cost estimates that can change greatly and the reallocation of funds that may not be available. For example, the Air Force used estimated, not actual, acreage to create its cost estimates, limiting the estimate's reliability and DOD's ability to plan and budget cleanup for these sites. Also, DOD expects additional funds will become available for munitions cleanup as other DOD hazardous waste cleanup efforts are completed. However, some of these efforts are behind schedule; therefore, funds may not become available as anticipated. DOD's plan does not contain goals or measures for site assessment and cleanup. DOD recently established a working group tasked with developing agencywide program goals and performance measures, but not service-specific targets, limiting DOD's ability to ensure that the services are making progress in cleaning the potentially contaminated sites and achieving the overall goals of the program as planned.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD has a comprehensive approach for identifying, assessing, and cleaning up military munitions at potentially contaminated sites, the Secretary of Defense should revise DOD's plan to establish interim goals for cleanup phases for the services and Corps to target.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD responded that, as part of current budgeting and programming guidance, it established interim goals requiring completion of all preliminary assessments by 2007 and all site inspections by 2010. These goals apply to all the military components, eliminating the need to have separate service-specific goals. DOD also responded that it is working with each of the military components to establish additional goals, including the establishment of a program completion date and metrics to gauge progress toward goal accomplishment. DOD estimates it will complete establishment of interim program goals by December 2005. As of May 2006, DOD responded that the Inter-Service Military Munitions Response Program (MMRP) Goals/Metrics workgroup is developing recommendations for "end of program" goals and metrics for implementation of the Munitions Response Program Prioritization Protocol. The MMRP goals are likely to be service and formerly used defense site (FUDS) specific, and are to be in place during the summer of 2006.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD has a comprehensive approach for identifying, assessing, and cleaning up military munitions at potentially contaminated sites, the Secretary of Defense should revise DOD's plan to reassess the timetable proposed for completing its reevaluation of sites using the new risk assessment procedures so that it can more timely establish the order in which sites should be assessed and cleaned up, thereby focusing on the riskiest sites first.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated that, as required by Congress, it has developed and is using the Munitions Response Site Prioritization Protocol to assign a relative priority to each Military Munitions Response Program (MMRP) site. The Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense (Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health) reiterated that the current timetable is achievable and that preliminary assessment will be complete by the end of FY 2007, and site inspections will be complete by the end of FY 2010. DOD determined this data would be appropriate and achievable after a careful evaluation of information currently available, time and resource requirements to gather needed information, and impact on the traditional hazardous waste program. As a result of applying the prioritization protocol, the anticipated completion date of the site inspections has been moved up from 2012 to 2010.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD has a comprehensive approach for identifying, assessing, and cleaning up military munitions at potentially contaminated sites, the Secretary of Defense should revise DOD's plan to establish deadlines to complete the identification process and initial evaluations so that it knows the universe of sites that needs to be assessed, prioritized, and cleaned up.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the "Defense Environmental Programs Annual Report to Congress for FY 2004," the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics reported that DOD completed the initial Military Munitions Response Program (MMRP) site inventory in FY 2002 and that this inventory is updated annually. As of the end of FY 2002, DOD had identified an inventory of 2,307 total sites. This figure increased to 2,817 at the end of FY 2003 and 3,398 at the end of FY 2004. DOD reported that this increase was anticipated as part of the MMPR development process. While DOD has not directly addressed GAO's recommendation to set deadlines, its continued efforts to identify and add new sites to the list complies with the spirit of this recommendation, which is to identify sites as rapidly and completely as possible so that it can better address the universe of sites to be assessed, prioritized, and cleaned up. They have done this, in part, by working to actively engage the community and other stakeholders in identifying and addressing environmental concerns.

    Recommendation: In addition, after DOD has revised its comprehensive plan, it should work with the Congress to develop realistic budget proposals that will allow DOD to complete cleanup activities on potentially contaminated sites in a timely manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In DOD's response to our requests for update on progress with regard to this recommendation, DOD reiterated its concurrence with our recommendation to work on developing better cost estimates. DOD states that it has been working with the military components (Army, Navy, and Air Force) to determine realistic program completion cost estimates and budgets to achieve program goals in a timely and affordable manner. Specifically, DOD has been continually working to assess and study sites. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the Formally Used Defense Sites (FUDS) program, designated 84 percent of its environmental restoration budget in fiscal year 2007 for investigations and clean up actions. Most of this was spent on investigations which help them gather more site specific information, which in turn can be fed into cost estimating models to better determine the expected cost to complete clean up. DOD repeatedly acknowledges that they are committed to working with and consulting Congress throughout this process to help ensure needed funds are available in a timely manner.

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